Oregon Zoo firings tied to death of 20-year-old orangutan - KPTV - FOX 12

Oregon Zoo firings related to death of orangutan

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Oregon Zoo orangutan Kutai died the first week of January following what the zoo called a "minor surgery." (Photo: Oregon Zoo) Oregon Zoo orangutan Kutai died the first week of January following what the zoo called a "minor surgery." (Photo: Oregon Zoo)

The sudden firings of high-ranking staff at the Oregon Zoo are related to the January death of a 20-year-old orangutan named Kutai.

Metro leaders said they made staffing changes because "mistakes were made" and "important information was not fully disclosed."

The key findings of the investigation into the orangutan's death, according to Metro, were the following:

  • Standard operating procedures and best practices were not followed.
  • Lapses in procedures and protocols were tolerated.
  • There was a lack of trust regarding the accuracy of reports and whether important facts regarding animal care were omitted.

Earlier this week, Oregon Zoo Director Kim Smith and lead vet Mitch Finnegan were fired, FOX 12 learned.

Smith, hired after a nationwide search in March 2010, was in charge of the multi-million dollar operation. She was paid a six-figure salary to get a better handle of the zoo's budget and construction projects.

Finnegan was hired at the Oregon Zoo in 1993. A former employee defended his work.

"I was outraged and disgusted. The man's body of work should speak for himself," said Phil Prewitt, who retired from the Oregon Zoo after 27 years as a zookeeper.

"I can't imagine who at the zoo or at Metro would consider themselves qualified to judge his protocol or his medical decisions," Prewitt said. "To bring those in question takes somebody as good as Mitch and there's damn few of them around."

On Wednesday, a zoo employee spoke with FOX 12 and expressed frustration by the firings, saying no reason was given for the dismissals of the employees.

But on Thursday, Metro, which operates the Oregon Zoo, posted a statement to its website, saying information came to its attention that raised questions about whether standards for accountability and integrity were met when it came to caring for the orangutan.

"We conducted a careful investigation of the circumstances surrounding Kutai's death and concluded mistakes were made and important information was not fully disclosed," the statement said.

They did not elaborate on the mistakes.

When Kutai died, the zoo's lead veterinarian said staff had been treating the orangutan for medical issues, and had tried to help him with two surgeries in the span of a week. Kutai was born in 1993 at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, KS., and arrived in Portland in 2001. He is survived by his grandmother, Inji, who at 54 is the oldest Oregon Zoo resident.

You can read the Oregon Zoo's news release announcing Kutai's death here. In it, zoo staff said the orangutan underwent a "minor surgery" on Thursday, Jan. 2.

"The following day though, he had become lethargic once again, and by Saturday blood work showed him to be severely anemic, necessitating a second surgery. Unfortunately, Kutai did not rebound a second time and died post-surgery upon returning to the zoo's primate area," the Zoo's news release said.

Metro leaders said they now plan to implement a thorough review of animal care procedures and protocols.

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